Paris, December 31, 2016
THE bewitching hours leading up to the New Year is best spent, in my mind, without too much fanfare. In fact, the best way to welcome the New Year is to sleep right through it. That’s been my yearly tradition. No parties for me, none of the revelry, the free-flow drinks, the party hats, or novelties that pelt forth quacking and rude noises. Belting out a solemn and mellow Auld Lang Syne with other giddy and tipsy revelers is just not my thing, let alone trying to find my way home amid the dearth of taxis.
But when you’re in Paris, and you get invited to a party, declining the invite wouldn’t exactly be polite. So, bundled up amid the minus-two-degree cold, F and I charge down the street to pick up an Autolib, one of those public electric cars so mini they look like toy cars. To unleash the car, you merely swipe a pay-card by a waist-high pillar-like kiosk. Then, you release a catch from the back right corner of the car, and pull out the car’s plug from its battery lifeline just like you would a nozzle at a gas station. Then you stick this very same plug back on the kiosk.
The plan is to drive there, and then Uber our way back. We’re expecting quite a bit of drinking on this night. Our destination: Fabian’s and Laura’s, friend of a friend of F, on the 20th arrondissement.
We find an Autolib parking space just a block away from their home, how convenient! But the machine refuses to accept our car, and we’re standing in the cold. It has been pre-booked by someone else, so we have to find another space. The challenge: how can we find one on this busy night of parties? The chill is biting into my shoes, my pants, my winter cap, my gloves. I wish we could just go home. At least, I don’t have to worry about the logistics, who to call, how to find that blessed parking space.
Back we go into the car, after F gets off the phone from a helpline, and then with a few expert turns of the wheel, down this block, and that, and another, and maybe one more. Quelle misère! That’s how much more we have to walk to get to the party now.
There are 12 people I say hello to in this tiny apartment, nine of whom are seated, elbow-to-elbow around the table, most of whom, I would learn, are friends who go a long way back since they were twelve.
I learn from Laura and Fabian the fine art of hosting a party in a cosy little apartment. No one takes off their shoes—this, after all, is not Singapore, but imagine the grime from the streets all over her home now! Her bedroom has become something of a coat-room. Everyone has piled their coats, hats, and scarves on her bed.
Next, the food. Serve it buffet style, and serve French fare. Oysters, foie gras with bread, cheese, and for something luxe, take out a lump of black truffle and show it off to your chef guest, then invite him to prepare oeufs brouillés with it—not just any kind of scrambled eggs, but one served in fancy shot glasses. So F does the honors, first slicing the black truffle into slivers, before mincing them into little pieces. Then, he goes about stirring the beaten eggs—eight, nine, ten of them—stir, stir, stir, until that magical moment arrives when they start to curdle. All that gets eaten up in a flash.
Somewhere from then till dessert, the countdown happens, the champagne pops, the music gets turned up to a celebratory boom, everyone wishes everyone else Bonne Année, Bonne Santé as cheeks touch, left, right. Happy New Year! To good health!
Then, the moment arrives, not exactly one I had been waiting for all night, but one I was expecting would come crawling at me waiting for me to bite. Simon, one of F’s best friends, I was told, would show up with some space cookies.
“Now Viv,” F urges, “you must try it.” It wasn’t exactly presented as a spread at the table, but hidden in a bag. It looks like any chocolate chip cookie except it’s laced with weed, which I’m told, gets creamed first with the butter, its effect hitting you only about an hour and a half or more later. Possible symptom: uncontrollable laughter and sublime happiness, perhaps some rolling on the floor.
“Could I just have a little, maybe half?” I asked Simon, who has worked through more than half of his own space cookie.
“No,” he says, “all or nothing.”
I must have nibbled at it slowly, bit by bit, about 15 minutes past midnight, a somewhat bland and blah cookie which could have been perked up with more sugar and chocolate chips. I figured nothing crazy would happen to me, and factor in that I was going to be in bed by one, I’d just as well be rolling in bed, and not the floor. We had to turn in early anyway, and not party all night, as F had to be at the bakery ultra early in the morning.
Lights out, tucked under the heavy duvet, I fell asleep almost immediately.
I awoke suddenly, though, with a kind of excitement drenching the entire body, my heart pacing wildly. Time: 2.40AM. Then there were the images—they felt like noise yet not noise, but they were huge, indeterminate, and seemed to wrestle for space so that I felt squashed, helpless. I breathed hard and opened my eyes wide only to see the darkness in the room, but the moment my eyes shut, the blotches, some colorful, some not, kept flashing behind my eye lids, which had a playful heaviness about them. No, they didn’t want me to see the darkness, they wanted me to see the oohs and the ahs, the colorful high, the weed joy.
Eyes closed felt like a default state, so that I needed conscious effort and energy to keep them opened, the silly girl who was fighting it all instead surrendering into le grand plaisir, the bliss.
I woke F, who, in his half-dazed, drowsy state, merely mumbled, “Go drink some water, it’ll go away!”
Did I or didn’t I wake up for the water? I don’t remember. All I remembered was that I went to the bathroom, and saw a somewhat crazed, tipsy face in the mirror. And then there was that vision of a giant cover coming down over me—a nice and warm gift on an awfully cold wintry night. Then, those lofty, loud undecipherable images. They just kept clawing at me to the point they lulled me to sleep. All was good the morning after, but I felt cheated of my laughter. Why didn’t I welcome the New Year with laughter—grand, lofty, uncontrollable laughter?
Next year, perhaps.